1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    How many paragraphs in can I leave out the gender of my main character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by GingerCoffee, Nov 6, 2014.

    You can't reveal everything all at once. My character is a 17 yr old female. The novel opens with her out exploring by herself, trapping food in the evening. Readers are likely to think it is a male narrator through the first short chapter, 5 paragraphs.

    Chapter 2, it't the next morning and you find out right away she's young and female.

    What say you on this matter, fellow forumites?
     
  2. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Well how long can you go without having to use a pronoun?
     
  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Why hide it? Does the mystery add anything to the character especially if you just start using pronouns at chapter 2 right after?
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's not hidden and it's first person narrative so no pronouns except 'I'. The subject doesn't come up until the morning when she enjoys getting up naked in the woods when no one is around.
     
  5. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'll go a step farther, and ask why her gender would ever need to be revealed?
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Because the reader needs to see your characters, especially the protagonist. It can be disconcerting to think you are reading the narration of a man only to find out later it is a 17 yr old girl. It's jarring.
     
  7. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I tell you good story: Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys is around 300 pages, and never once does Gaiman mention that his main character is black.

    Take that "jarring" and use it. Reveal her age and gender only when you feel that the information will provoke the best reaction from the reader (I would say sometime around the point of no return or the belly of the whale). You can reveal her gender and age in the way people act around her, but it would be a great experiment to go the whole book without ever acutely mentioning these character points.
     
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  8. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it would be cool:agreed:. However, your book blurb is probably going to mention the protagonist. We'll go in knowing the "I" is a "she," unless you'll stick to a surname and clever wording.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Disguising her gender or age would not do for the story, but thank you all for the interesting take on the matter. It seems I may not need to worry about a 6 paragraph in 'jarring' of the reader.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You bring it up when it's natural to do so. You only really have a problem if you have to jump through hoops to avoid giving out the information. That always stands out like a roaring drunk in a convent.

    Gender is usually pretty important for the reader to grasp the character, so earlier is better than later, but don't tear you hair out if it doesn't come out in the first paragraph. Hell, your main character doesn't even need to appear at all in the first few chapters!
     
  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Just go for it. And what Okon said about the blurb. We'll likely know the gender anyway. In fact, the novel would probably be recognized as a good example of having a multidimensional, strong female lead by the time it's published, so there's no need to cram it in, or for that matter, hide it.
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was in a discussion one about this very issue a while back. For me, I would not like it -- not one bit, to find out something like gender far into the story. Almost immediately, I get some kind of mental picture of a character, and gender is a pretty big part of that. If I were suddenly to discover I were wrong, I'd feel really thrown off -- it would take me out of the story and lead to some confusion, which is never a good thing for a reader.

    I know some people like to be cute and try to see how long they can "fool" a reader, so they can say "A HA! I got you! You assumed this character *had* to be a man (or woman), didn't you! Well, I showed you!" I don't care for those kinds of gimmicks.

    And if it's not a gimmick, why keep it secret? I think we need to know the basics of a character almost up front. Usually I'll know those things about a character before I even start reading, since I've read the jacket cover or a review of the book. But if not, I want to be set as to time, place, and general things about the character, so I can be ready for the story, rather than trying to figure out what world I'm in or what character I'm following.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I may try to throw one more reference in that first chapter, even though it's short, hinting at or disclosing gender.
     
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  14. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    I think you can hold off revealing a lot of things (and should) to add to the suspense. But gender is not one of them. Readers want a clear visual of your protagonist from the start.
     
  15. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure why getting naked in the woods defines that somebody is female.
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think she meant that's what implies the character's a woman. :D Maybe the character notices something about herself when she's nekkid, like a butterfly lands on her boob or something. Or she has to make sure there're no pervs around, like the last time when Old Codger Badgerton found out her skyclad spot and things got kinda awkward. That implies if not confirms to the reader she is, indeed, female.
     
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  17. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Looks like I made that too subtle!
     
  18. Thom
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    Thom Member

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    It's always easier to keep the MC's gender a 'secret' in single perspective. Personally I prefer omni perspective, but either way I would still like to know the look of the character the author has created.
    But when that is 'revealed' all comes down to personal preference. If you can do it without it being cumbersome and you want to do that as the author, then I say go for it. Being able to keep mysteries from the reader is all part of story telling. Even the small mysteries such as gender.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    For anyone curious, this is how her gender is revealed in the enjoyment of nakedness scene:
     
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  20. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sucks if she can't indulge to her urges anywhere else except all by her lonesome in the woods. :(
     
  21. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    I'm gonna give you a tip on this one: look for something distinctively female for your character to do that a male hunter might not consider immediately. I write my MC as a female first person perspective. Have her tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear or something -that will make the reader think she's either female or is a guy with long hair at least :D
     
  22. A_Jones
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    A_Jones Member

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    I had an issue that my beta reader went through my novel thinking the main character was a guy because I wrote that she was a girl too late and my beta reader just skipped over it somehow. I would suggest you say it early on.
     
  23. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    If it adds to the story then I do not see a problem. It immediately brought to mind the story of Joan of Arc who disguised herself as a man to lead the troops and as a means to avoid being raped. Using that as an example, a story written about her from the point of view of an enemy commander might not reveal her gender until late in the story if at all.
     
  24. Hop
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    Hop New Member

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    I'm with everyone else on not forcing it just let it come about naturally. On the other hand it might not be too tasteful, but since your character is in the woods the way they pee could be a definite way of establishing female or male I would imagine.
    A bit off topic, but I would be thrilled if I was reading a character as one gender and they turned out to be another, I think gender roles are fun to play around with.
     
  25. astro
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    astro New Member

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    I feel the need to point out that in the novel Lock In by John Scalzi, the protag Chris's gender is not revealed, and it's done well and for a good reason.
     

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